Harford County Sheriff Joseph P. Meadows is on unpaid leave while authorities investigate an employee's complaint against him, officials said yesterday.
Meadows, in his third term as the county's top law enforcement officer, elected to take leave during the investigation, said sheriff's office spokeswoman Ginger Rigney.
Col. Thomas Golding, the chief deputy, has assumed day-to-day operations, she said. Rigney added that by law she could not discuss the nature of the complaint, which was filed this month.
Golding turned the investigation of the complaint over to Howard County police on Feb. 10 to avoid any conflict of interest, Rigney said.
Howard police acknowledged yesterday that they are handling the matter. "I can confirm that we are investigating," said Sherry Llewellyn, police spokeswoman. "At this point, I can't comment any further on the nature of that investigation."
Meadows, 42, confirmed the complaint's existence yesterday. "I acknowledge that a personnel complaint has been filed."
Meadows added that his first concern is ensuring the investigation is full and thorough. "That's why when the complaint was filed -- since it involved me -- that I turned it over immediately to the second-in-command with the understanding that I would stay out of the investigation."
Meadows had scheduled vacation earlier this month and said he opted to extend his time off as unpaid leave, but he added that he is in daily contact with Golding.
"I don't want to give the impression I am out," the sheriff said. "Hopefully, this thing will wrap up in the foreseeable future."
Few details are available about the matter because under law, such personnel matters are held in "strictest confidence," Rigney said.
"It's not even been found that he violated agency policy," Rigney said.
If the complaint were substantiated, it would most likely be a civil matter, legal experts said yesterday.
State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli declined to discuss whether his office has been contacted on the matter. "I don't want to discuss anything that may end up in my office. I would neither confirm nor deny it."
Speaking generally about the types of cases his office handles, Montanarelli said, "Normally when we receive a complaint of sexual harassment, we refer the complainant to the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] or the civil rights office."
He said for his office to take over the matter, corrupt behavior in the conduct of an official's duties would have to be proved.
Assistant Attorney General Robert A. Zarnoch said that sexual harassment is a civil matter for the most part, though under a 1973 attorney general's office opinion, sheriffs may be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. "It's not clear whether this is an impeachable offense," he said.
Zarnoch added that the last time impeachment was used in Maryland was against a judge in the 1700s. "Impeachment is not a viable recourse considering its limited use in Maryland," he said.
Zarnoch said a constitutional provision that elected officials convicted of felonies or misdemeanors in connection with their office be removed has made impeachment unnecessary for the most part.
Meadows, a former prosecutor with the Harford County state's attorney's office, was elected sheriff in 1994. He earns $84,011.20 in the post. The native of Edgewood graduated from the University of Baltimore School of Law.